Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Chemical versus Electrical
13 May 2014

Chemical versus Electrical

There’s no perceivable lag between our decisions to move and carrying out our actions. That’s because the neurons [nerve cells] of our central nervous system (CNS) communicate with each other in a trice, either across a chemical or an electrical junction (synapse). In some areas of the CNS researchers think that chemical signals might be regulating electrical junctions over longer periods, and to study this they've focused on an area of the brain called the inferior olive. Pictured are two neurons from the inferior olive that are communicating both electrically and chemically. By blocking chemical signals the team found that calcium entering the cell, controlled by a gateway called the NMDAR, could depress the electrical signal so regulating the nerve’s activity. It seems that chemical and electrical synapses co-exist to provide another, more long lasting level of regulation that makes our nervous system even more versatile.

Written by Katherine Hardy

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